Do you know what it means to be an undergraduate vs graduate student? There are some major differences between the two. You may be surprised to learn that the difference means more than you think. Here we uncover the truth behind undergraduate vs. graduate.

If you spend any amount of time near or around higher education people, either on or off campus you may hear the terms graduate program and undergraduate program. Do you know the differences?

You may find that you or a friend is an undergraduate student and not know what it means. If you planning to further your education, you may need to know what is a graduate program.

In this article, discuss the differences between undergraduate vs graduate programs to help you get an idea what it’s all about.

The difference shouldn’t be too shocking, but they may surprise you a little. Continue on to find out the differences between undergraduate and graduate.

The Biggest Difference is the Most Obvious One

You may know that there are four main degrees that you can obtain through post-secondary schooling.

After your high school years and your well-earned diploma, you can continue on to obtain an associates degree, bachelors degree, masters degree or a doctorate. Under general rules, you have to go in that order with the previous leading to the next.

As you advance in your degree programs, the classes become more and more focused. The terms undergraduate vs graduate refer to the degrees you are currently pursuing.

If you are an undergraduate student or are enrolled in an undergraduate program, then you are either trying to obtain your As you advance in your degree programs.

Likewise, if you are a graduate student or enrolled in a graduate program, you already have a bachelor’s degree and are now attempting to collect a masters degree or doctorate.

The major difference, of course, is which degree you are currently after. Even if the end goal is a doctorate, if you are yet to obtain your bachelor’s degree, you are an undergraduate.

Differences Classroom between Undergraduate vs Graduate program

classroom in a college

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Beyond the first and most important difference, there are subtle differences you should be aware of that take place inside the institution. Classes themselves are different in design and structure.

For example, undergrads will take classes that are broader in scope and have a more generalized lesson plan. The basics of education are reiterated and expanded upon here. The general lessons offer a wider array of classes with a more general overview instead of directly focus on learning.

When you advance to a graduate program, your classes will have a sharper focus on a specific subject. You will be required to show a mastery of a more advanced and specialized portion than you would in an undergraduate program.

Another classroom difference will be attendance size. Once you move from an undergraduate program to a graduate program, the classes are more focused on a particular career.

While you may have a large class size in your biology 201 class while obtaining your bachelor’s degree, those same students are now more focused on the variances of biology instead of the broad focus.

For instance, a class of 100 students in Biology 201 will be filtered to 15 students in microbiology, 20 in marine biology, etc. The more focused the program, the fewer students there will be in a particular class.

Sometimes those classes will have such a fine point of focus there may only be four or five students per class. When you reach the doctorate classes, you may even find a more specialized one-on-one class of study.

Graduate Programs are Less Classroom Focused

talking about less use classroom

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While you are in an undergraduate program, you will spend a lot of your time in the classroom or laboratory. However, a major difference between that and a graduate program is the learning focus.

Graduate programs are more geared towards research and study and less on lessons and lectures. By the time you have your bachelors degrees, the lectures are all but over. Instead, you will fill your time with writing research papers, thesis papers and doing more specialized studying.

The testing is different as well. While you are in an undergrad program, your exams will be a primary portion of your grade and will cover the broad spectrum of the class of study.

In a graduate program, however, the exams are even more crucial and hold a much heavier weight. The exams are much more comprehensive, and you are unlikely ever to see a multiple choice question again.

It May Be Difficult To Change

If you are in an undergraduate program and decide you want to change schools or even fields of study, it is much easier to do so. Because the focus is much broader the first four years, you can take your credits and classes and switch to a different school or even change your focus entirely.

Once you enroll in a graduate program, you will be far less likely to be able to make a switch. Each school will have a particular method of teaching or a specific specialization which will make it near impossible to change locations or study focus.

If you enroll in a graduate program and decide to make a change, you will most likely just have to start over completely. It is for this reason that most institutions and programs will ensure that the students are fully dedicated and focused on that particular field, career choice, and area of study.

That isn’t to say making a change is impossible or unheard of, but the road can be costly, difficult and may result in loss of credits or tuition fees.

The Career May Not Warrant A Graduate Program

Some career paths will ask that their employees have an associate’s or even bachelor’s degree. However, it is far less common for major career fields to ask for or even require a graduate program degree.

While some professions must have a doctorate, others can use graduate degrees as a chance to promote or make more in their salary.

You should always examine your chosen career path and determine if the career requires or even has room for a graduate level degree.

Value is always placed on study and schooling. However, experience also counts. Some fields will place a higher importance on actually doing the job instead of spending the years in the classroom learning about it. Depending on your career choice, you need to see if a master’s or doctorate is worth it to you.

The Dissertation and Qualifications

research for dissertation

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The last major difference between an undergraduate vs graduate comes in the requirements needed to earn your degree. While an undergraduate will need to attend class, complete homework and classwork and pass exams, it will be a lot different for graduate programs.

As an undergraduate, if you show up, do the work and pass your classes, you will receive your degree. Once you enroll in a graduate program, though, the classroom will all but disappear. You will be expected to go off on your own. Spend your time doing research and finding or breaking new ground.

You will not have a strict attendance policy, and you may not even have a classroom. Instead, you will have papers to write, exams to pass and a dissertation to complete.

The dissertation is the one article that can keep you from getting your doctorate. Even if all classes are passed and have a perfect record of attendance. If you do not have your thesis paper and dissertation complete and reviewed, you won’t get your degree.

A thesis is a project based paper or essay that marks the completion of your master’s degree program. It shows you have a mastery of the subject and have done the required research and investigative study.

A dissertation is completed during the doctorate level of schooling. Instead of showing a mastery of a subject, the dissertation is an example of a new way of thinking. The essay is to show a new idea, support the idea, research, and fight for its place in acceptance.

In Conclusion – Undergraduate vs Graduate program

There are several major and minor differences between undergraduate vs graduate programs the most obvious being the level of education. The first two degrees (associates and bachelors) are undergraduate programs that have a wide range of study.

The classes are larger, and the field of study is broader. The graduate programs, on the other hand, are more skill and career focused. Smaller classes, more emphasis on a specialized field of study and of course, the thesis paper and dissertations.

You have to progress naturally and in order. There isn’t an option to skip a bachelor’s degree and head straight for a master’s. Each one of must come and be completed in accordance with the degree guidelines through the particular field of study.

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